As Canada passes the second major bill in global media seeking remuneration for news publishers from Big Tech (the first coming in 2021 in Australia), news media leaders around the world are responding to the rapid-fire exchange between the Canadian government and the tech duopoly Google and Facebook.
A recent syndicated Bloomberg report offered a biblical David and Goliath comparison, arguing that some of the biggest supporters of the bill have been “legacy newspaper publishers” and the biggest losers are likely “innovative news startups” that rely on powerful players such as Google and Facebook to reach new audiences.
However, according to a government press release, “the Online News Act supports small news outlets by allowing them to negotiate for compensation as a unit through collective bargaining.”
The Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), quoted Canada’s Village Media (VM) CEO Jeff Elgie, who told the outlet that “if Google and Meta pull content from Canadian news outlets, it would ‘devastate’ the industry,” adding that he “has been against Bill C-18 … from the start,” and that about 50% of his company’s traffic derives from the duopoly.
“The whole approach with this bill in our opinion has been flawed from the get go. It’s based on the notion that Google and Facebook steal content from publishers, which of course is not at all true.” Village Media runs 25 community Web sites and employs nearly 100 journalists.
According to the Bloomberg report, 18% of its traffic comes from Facebook, with about 32% coming from Google.
On a different note, Maria Saras-Voutsinas, executive director of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, told the CBC the organisation is “ecstatic” the bill had passed.
In a syndicated article, The Canadian Press (TCP) expressed possibilities for a reinvigorated industry in the high-stakes battle: Courtney Radsch, director of the Washington, D.C., think tank, Center for Journalism and Liberty, told TCP: “This is a moment of reckoning for brands that want to support the public interest and want to be seen but don’t want to be seen on platforms that are negatively perceived by the public.”
Australian vs. Canadian legislation
Google was quick to issue a PDF explaining its view of the differences between the Australian News Media Bargaining Code and Canada’s Online News Act, which it says, among other things, accounts for its decision to block news in Canada but not in Australia. (The PDF did not mention a point which Pablo Rodriguez, Canadian Heritage Minister, considers key: that Canada’s law is stronger than Australia’s because it’s “more transparent.”)
The Conversation noted that while Australia passed its legislation, it has not been used, leaving Google and Meta to make private deals with media. In Canada, Google’s concern is what it calls a link tax that could leave it with potentially unlimited liabilities.
News associations stand in solidarity with Canadian publishers
From the United States: Another Bloomberg report quoted Jason Kint, CEO at Digital Content Next, as saying, “It’s a proxy battle for them. Whatever they do in Canada, they’re probably doing it more for their public policy interests in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere.”
News Media Alliance President and CEO Danielle Coffey said in a statement: “The passage of C-18 is part of global trend to ensure quality news content is compensated by the dominant tech platforms that distribute the content and receive tremendous financial benefit that must be returned to those who create the content.”
From the Biden administration, however, there has been little. Some U.S. lawmakers are concerned over the possible unfair targeting of U.S. companies, while Reuters reported that Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “Leaders are right to stand firm against these tactics and push back against Big Tech’s freeloading off local news.”
From the U.K., where the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which could force Google and Meta to pay for news in the U.K. and share analytic and algorithm information, has been recently tabled, parliament member Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said to National Newswatch:
“The crux of the matter for Big Tech is that they do not want to be subject to any transparency measures. Whether lobbying against Canada’s Online News Act, the European Union’s Digital Services Act, or the United Kingdom’s Online Safety Bill, and recently tabled Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, the underlying rationale for Big Tech’s strategy is the same: to remain as opaque and as unaccountable to the public as possible.
“Luckily, though, there’s strength in numbers when it comes to bullies. You’re not alone, Canada.”
From the E.U., where 18 press associations signed a joint statement under the auspices of the European Publishers Council, which called Google and Meta “monopolists”: “In Canada, the law – the Online News Act – is new, but Google and Meta’s tactics are old. We call on both companies to act like socially responsible corporate citizens, stand down and accept that the world is changing, and recognise that the law has been passed through the democratic process and the platforms can no longer prosper by abusing their dominance in the market at the cost of everyone else.”
The level of crossfire seems to be escalating
One senator has called on Canadians to switch to Bing Search Engine, with Canadian Heritage Minister Rodriguez saying Microsoft’s search engine will not have to pay news outlets since they are not in a dominant position.
Canada is leaving the door open to regulating Meta’s new Threads social media platform.
An open letter to advertisers and other stakeholders in the Canadian media industry from the president of the Canadian Media Directors’ Council calls for media and advertising companies to pledge spending 25% of their online digital marketing budgets through local media, reported Global News.
CTV News reported Google has excluded Canada from its expansion of the AI chatbox Bard.
The Canadian Press reported Meta has begun to run ads opposing C-18 on Facebook and Instagram, with plans to extend to radio and digital in both French and English. In addition, it is also running ads to prepare the Canadian public for blocked content, according to The Globe and Mail. However, “some Quebec radio stations and news publications are refusing to carry the content,” the article reported.
Google announced it is testing a new AI tool, Genesis, that can write news articles, according to The New York Times and Tech Crunch. It has been pitched to The New York Times, News Corp, and The Washington Post.
An article in Cryptopolitan noted Meta’s increasing distance from the news industry — deemphasising current events on its multiple platforms, and makes note of the near simultaneous passage of Canadian legislation and “the titan’s standoff with … governments.”
Chronology of events
For a deep dive, here is list — to date — of events since the bill became law:
Online News Act passes. The Online News Act, Bill C-18, passed the Canadian Senate and received Royal Assent on June 22, thereby becoming law. Both Meta and Google opposed the law prior to its passage.
Platforms react by announcing news blockages. Meta announced that, as it said before the legislation passed, it will permanently halt news sharing on Facebook and Instagram in Canada as a means of complying with the new law.
In short order, Google announced it will block news from Discover, Google News, and Google Search in Canada, in addition to retiring its contracts for News Showcase in Canada, affecting more than 150 news outlets. Google’s President of Global Affairs, Google & Alphabet Kent Walker said in a statement the law is “the wrong approach to supporting journalism in Canada.”
Nearly one in two Canadians get their news from social media, The Conversation noted. Both companies have said, however, that news contributes little to their bottom line and that they will initiate these actions prior to the law taking effect in six months.
Government, media companies, political party, pull advertising. In response to the news blockage announcements, the Canadian government pulled its advertising from Facebook and Instagram. According to the CBC, during the 2021-22 fiscal year, it spent CA$11,423,728 on Meta advertising and CA$8,757,234 on Google’s. News Media Canada said in a statement, “We encourage all municipal and provincial governments across Canada to do the same.”
Quebec and several of its major cities — Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau, Laval, and Longueiui — have followed suit The Toronto Star reported. British Columbia’s government has also joined the movement — advertising “only to provide the public with critical information relalted to public health and safety emergencies, including wildfire information.”
The governments are joined by telcom and media firm Quebecor, by CBC/Radio-Canada, and cable television and radio station operator Cogeco. Torstar, Bell Media, Corus Entertainment (parent company for Global News), and media worker union, Unifor (which represents 10,000 workers) are all participating, said the Star.
“More than 30 advertisers … have halted ads on Meta’s platforms in response to news blocking,” Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, told INMA. “We thank those advertisers who have stood up for democratic values and a commercially viable, fiercely independent press, and we fully expect more provincial government and corporate advertisers will take a similarly principled stand in the face of bullying tactics from the social media giant.”
“We are soon going to reach a tipping point where the loss of revenue from a large scale advertising boycott is going to cost Meta much more than they would actually have to pay news businesses for the use of our content under the Online News Act,” he said. “Meta has more than four billion reasons – their Canadian revenue – not to ‘unfriend’ a lucrative G7 market like Canada.”
But while some governments are pausing their ads on Meta platforms, the CBC reported that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada, which introduced the legislation, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have plans to continue advertising there. Bloc Québécois, another federal party, stopped Meta advertising on June 29, according to the CBC.
Opportunities to resolve differences. The bill itself will not take effect until later this year, giving the involved parties opportunities to resolve their differences and the government time to decide how to enforce the act.
In an interview with CBC Network, Deegan said he expects there to be an agreement, noting Canada is a very attractive market for the companies, making it in their self-interest to negotiate and continue to offer news on their platforms.
According to the CBC, a Meta spokesperson explained, “Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not equipped to make changes to the fundamental features of the legislation that have always been problematic, and so we plan to comply by ending news availability in Canada in the coming weeks.”